Electrobiome: Microbial Production of Chemicals & Fuels from Carbon Dioxide


The inventors have developed an electrosynthetic microbiome, called the Electrobiome, that directly converts CO2, water, and electricity into hydrogen (H2), formic acid, and acetic acid.  The Electrobiome can also produce polyesters (bioplastic), alcohols (ethanol, butanol), and is being developed further for the production of liquid hydrocarbons.  The Electrobiome has been continually operating for more than three years, which demonstrates sustainability that far surpasses other electrosynthetic microbiomes.  As an added benefit, the electrical input into the Electrobiome can be intermittent, allowing it to run when low-cost electricity is available.  Thus far, up to 4 kg of acetic acid per m3catholyte or 6.5 kg of H2 per m3catholyte has been produced per day (1kg H2 ≈ 1 gallon gasoline equivalent) without costly, rare-earth catalysts at the cathode.  Overall, Coloubmic efficiency (electron recovery in products) has exceeded 90% and energy efficiency has ranged from 35% to 55%.


Overview: Markets for all of the Electrobiome products are sizeable and growing (annual global: H2 to $118B by 2016, fatty acids to $13B by 2017, and bioplastics in US to $7.7B by 2016).  Further growth for most of these markets will depend on the availability of oil, gas and coal, which are scarce in many countries, and the demand for C-neutral chemicals and fuels. The Electrobiome is within range of cost competitiveness.  For example, with 35% energy efficiency it has produced 2 kg acetate plus 3 kg of H2 per m3catholyte per day from 350 kWh or $7 of electricity (this is at $0.02 per kWh, the price of wind power in some US locations enabled with PTC/ITC/Treasury Grant).  This is $1 of acetate (bulk price $50 to $100 per metric ton as of 4/18/16) leaving $6 of electricity to produce 3 kg of H2 ($2/kg excluding pressurization and distribution – a US DOE target).  The H2 may be used directly as a stationary or transportation fuel or for further chemical processing.  Formic and acetic acids are used as food additives and preservatives or to produce adhesives, plastics, paints, and dyes.  All of these products may be used as feedstocks for the production of bioplastics and other industrial chemicals and fuels. 


Advantages: Sustainable production of fuels, chemicals and plastics from waste CO2 with potential to lower raw material cost and reduce carbon footprint

Key Words: Electrosynthesis, Renewable fuels, Hydrogen, Bioplastics, CO2 utilization


Publications: LaBelle, Edward V., et al. “Influence of acidic pH on hydrogen and acetate production by an electrosynthetic microbiome.”  PloS ONE (2014), 9(10): e10993. 


Marshall, Christopher W., et al. "Long-term Operation of Microbial Electrosynthesis Systems Improves Acetate Production by Autotrophic Microbiomes." Environmental science & Technology (2013), 2013, 47:6023-6029. 


Marshall, Christopher W., et al. "Electrosynthesis of commodity chemicals by an autotrophic microbial community." Applied and environmental microbiology78.23 (2012): 8412-8420.


Inventors:  H.D. May, E.V. LaBelle, C.W. Marshall

Patent Status:  PCT Application Filed 09/17/2013; WO2014/043690, Patent applications pending in U.S., Canada and EP. 

MUSC-FRD Technology ID: P1305


To license the intellectual property rights associated with the Electrobiome, and purchase the necessary components of the system, including microbial samples, anodes, cathodes, and various other associated materials, please contact the Marketing/Licensing Officer for FRD at technology@musc.edu.


Patent Information:
For Information, Contact:
Mark Hankins
Director of Licensing
MUSC Foundation for Research Development
Harold May
Christopher Marshall
Edward LaBelle
fuel cell
© 2017. All Rights Reserved. Powered by Inteum